Compleat Idler, Education, photo art

Compleat Idler – the f/ stops here part I

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

Back in the sixties, photography took over my life. I remarked when I was selling photo gear and finishing on what digital photography would have done for my social life—no more hanging out in the lab until three in the morning, smelling like chemicals or having stains on my clothing that bleach would not touch. I could have gone over to a friend’s pad and had beer while I loaded images onto a laptop and sent them anywhere in the world. Today the job would be done before the teams got back to their locker rooms.

But back then it was use a mechanical camera preset for the average light, push the Tri-X to 1600 or greater speed. Larry Dressler has a method for going to equivalent iso of 12800 at http://www.digitaltruth.com/articles/pushing-tri-x.php This is wilder than anything I did or even had the patience for. I would use developers called Acufine or Diafine which supposedly used different areas of the emulsion to do the magic—which worked most, well better than 50 percent, of the time. I used a lot of high contrast paper in those days.

While I was learning a lot about photochemistry and emulsions I was also setting my body up for problems later on—by the fall of 1975, the professor in a graduate course barred me from the lab for exposure in excess of that recommended. He said I could keep using my home lab for black and white as long as I improved my ventilation. There is nothing unique about this experience. Several people, who, like myself, did their own black and white survived for years. So why worry.

The mechanical cameras were upgraded over the years and the apex was the Nikon F2 or Canon F1 in the early seventies. So these were discussions over beer and pool—as far as I was concerned these were discussions because my budget and business plan did not have room for a new camera and I picked up used Nikon Fs for $100 or less. By the time I got an F2, it had been replaced by the electronic F3—the apex of electronic non-autofocus SLRs—an the F4, a poorly performing autofocus SLR that was rushed into production after another company seized the initiative. So the discussions have continued over the years.

My friend Johnny ran a photofinishing and used camera store in a rough neighborhood. As the neighborhood got rougher I spent time there after I got off work so there would be two of us when we closed and two of us when we caravaned to the bank. The local thugs knew the guy in the truck had a Mossberg 500 and steered clear. We argued technology for years as I would occasionally look up some of the non-proprietary lenses. And it is always a crapshoot when you buy off brand optics—some are better than others.

A hint for film photographers: The cheapest of the major non-proprietary lenses resolves more lines than Kodachrome 25 which was the philosopher’s stone of transparency film. If you want to see an artistic approximation of the K25 and K64, visit an art museum and find a work by William-Adolphe Bougereau (1825-1905). The temperature and delicacy of the light—the colors and fineness of detail—seem to have inspired the film. In modern film, Fuji Provia 100 comes close in resolution. To go from transparency to the printed page resolution is lost in each stage. So the finest optical glass and a midrange optical glass will produce similar final results.

Johnny was a traditionalist and had been a portrait and glamour photographer. He did catalogs and some photofinishing. I had done some advertising and public relations as well as newspaper and magazine work. By the time I was hanging out at the shop I was doing landscapes and some raptors. I saw the lighter weight of composite lenses as a positive. So we disagreed. When I was laid off from my full-time sales gig, I spent a C-note and got a 2.3mp, autofocus point and shoot. He pooh-poohed it by saying he would shoot negatives and have them give him jpegs on a CD.

I have not worked in the lab since 1993 or thereabouts. Hint: If you have negatives, do not store them in a filebox on the basement floor. Thirty years of black and white work went down the tubes in about 20 minutes during the flood. I do not remember whether I sat down and cried then but I do remember the pit in my stomach. Having culled my transparencies and and stored them high, I still have that record and plan to get a scanner and a pile of CDs to back up my Seagate. Otherwise, they will not survive.

Perspective time again. With a 4×5 view and 6x6TLR I have carefully set up pictures in black and white using the finest grain film and zone exposure. I have done bare domes, broad fields and stands of aspen, but I am not one of the greats. When I was at the University of Denver, I studied at the Denver Public Library which was on my bus route. The table I liked was beneath a painting titled Estes Park by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). I bought a large poster in the museum shop at Rocky Mountain National Park and paid for a serious frame. There is no way that painting could be replicated in a single photograph because of the difference in light. I do not have the time to do it. And when one vacations with family, one does not have the time to set up and wait for light.

A few months before Johnny died, I sprung for a Nikon D60. A new SLR! He told me that he could get as good from his F and get CDs. And I have discovered much here about the various options now available such as lenses that compensate for camera shake, and the wide range of options. They finally discontinued Kodachrome 64. It was a matter of time and the fact that National Geographic now uses digital images—I see no degradation in the quality, but I am functionally blind in one eye.

Do I see another SLR in my future? Sure. If I win the lottery and have the physical ability to travel in the west, a pair of Nikon D4s will do nicely.

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